Michael Okai - Witness Care Officer
I joined The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2006 after working "on the other side" as a Prisoner Custody Officer. My experience in this role, particularly seeing glee on the faces of defendants who walked away from charges due to default in non witness attendance or not enough evidence, helped persuade me to take up my role in Witness Care. Through my role I can directly influence and support witnesses through the complicated procedures of the Justice System, hopefully increasing their confidence in CPS and ensuring more convictions through witness attendance.
A week in my role begins with prioritising workload in Trials, Plea Case Management Hearings (PCMHs) and Newton Hearing Committees and chasing up any queries that I may have for the week. My days then consist of contacting victims and witnesses to inform them of up and coming trials or PCMHs and to confirm their attendance. There are various forms to submit to CPS IPT (Integrated Prosecution Team) if there are issues to be resolved. For PCMHs I also contact Victims and Witnesses and email the Officer in the Case to warn him to attend.
I also respond to queries from victims and witness about a range of issues such as the outcome of trials, child minding and whether they will be required to attend court. There are a number of associated challenges to overcome such as contacting victims who may have moved address, dealing with language barriers and of course maintaining a constant awareness of sensitive issues. When dealing with cases such as rape or domestic violence I have to be tactful and understanding while providing support to the victim to build confidence and hopefully encourage them in giving evidence.
I took up my post looking for a challenging role where I could increase my understanding of the justice systemI took up my post looking for a challenging role where I could increase my understanding of the justice system; I certainly found it. Every case is different and therefore I have to adapt and deal with problems as they arise. In one case a witness suffering from Manic Depressive Disorder found she could be consoled by me and was constantly calling just to talk. Whilst offering support to victims and witnesses it is an ongoing challenge to maintain a professional relationship - I cannot afford to get too involved in my victims' and witnesses' lives.
Despite the many challenges my role is both enjoyable and hugely rewarding. One of the most satisfying experiences is being able to give victims and witnesses positive feedback following court proceedings. I also find my role interesting; the variety of cases which I deal with is ever changing and I encounter a wide variety of people through my work. I liaise with police officers and lawyers as well as frequently discussing cases with my colleagues to get a second or third opinion on a matter, they provide a most valuable support system! Professionally there is always the opportunity to develop skills and further experience through courses or training.
An advantage of working with the CPS is the various roles and levels within the organisation which provide opportunities for individuals to work towards posts according to their own ambition. In addition the provision of a flexible working system allows all employees the freedom to maintain a healthy work life balance and does not restrict the progression opportunities for those with family commitments.